I received a thoughtful email from a data visualization expert yesterday that I thought I would share just in terms of his reactions to Brains as a communications medium.
"Mind maps are very flexible but have some inherent limitations when it comes to visualizing large-scale patterns (seeing the forest, not just the trees), and when used for navigation as you are doing:
- They are mostly words (so you have to read them to understand them)
- They tend to use space arbitrarily (so link positions alone don’t convey much meaning other than local grouping)
- They don’t scale well (forcing you to explore them through a keyhole once they get beyond a certain size)
As a result, it’s hard for the user to maintain context. The experience is like wandering in a maze. When you first enter the maze you have no idea whatsoever about how large and deep it is, and once you are inside it you can only see your immediate surroundings, so quickly become lost.
As long as you are committed to using this particular tool, there is not much you can do to overcome these limitations, other than constantly trimming your hierarchy so that there are never too many links on any one level. Color coding or guidepost patterns in the background images might help if they were consistent, but I’m not sure how much control the brain software gives you over this sort of thing. Are you open to exploring other tools or forms of visualization?
When I work with people on visualizations and user experience I try to get them to focus on exactly what they are trying to accomplish. Who is your user? What precisely is this user trying to do? How exactly will your brain help them do this?
I agree completely with your E. O. Wilson quote that we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. How does your chess brain alleviate this problem? In one of your videos you mentioned that the brain preserves links that would otherwise be forgotten and hard to rediscover via googling. But is that really the primary problem you are trying to solve? If so, how does a hiding those links inside a vast maze help?
Or are you instead trying to create a guided experience that encourages people to browse and find links they’ve never seen before? That’s a very different goal. If so, what principle do you use when choosing links for your collection? Are you trying to promote a certain perspective? What are you doing to entice the user and encourage them to stay and keep exploring?
Or are you trying to create a shared resource for the resistance community, one that will somehow evolve and incorporate their insights? If so, is it really possible to do that while maintaining sole control over the topic tree and link choices? Why not make a wiki instead?
Or do you want to convey an overall impression of universe of information and reveal high-level patterns that might help people think more strategically? Is so, wouldn’t it be important to incorporate the element of time so that users could see how the brain has been changing? Wouldn’t it be useful to show where recent activity is and where it isn’t? How would you do that through a keyhole?
I ask these questions not to be rude, but to help you zero in on *exactly* what you are really trying to accomplish. Once you have that nailed down, it will be easier to tell whether or not you are succeeding.